Archive for January, 2012

A couple of days ago I mentioned that Starbucks had changed their coffee cups, and that this felt like such an important event I would need a little time to process it.

I have processed it.

It has led me to consider the relevance of the different styles of cup used in the three coffee shops I regularly visit: Starbucks, Costa and Cafe Nero.

In fact, in has taken me beyond just their crockery to an overall appraisal of their different styles.

Starbucks

Starbucks cups now look like this:

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which is not too dissimilar from what they have always looked like. Their chunky, utilitarian style seems to suggest a kind of homely, honest, no-nonsense approach. They want you to feel like you could be in your own kitchen, or just popping round to a good friend’s or a beloved aunt’s. No one’s going to try and give you any fancy coffee or make you drink out of dainty cups or otherwise fuck with the enjoyment of your Joe.

The décor is a kind of airy California beach house crossed with painted clap-board New England; stylish but unchallenging. “Come and have a coffee, put your feet up, don’t worry if you drop muffin crumbs on the floor, we don’t got no carpet anyway“, they seem to be saying.

The staff usually appear the most professional of the three chains, but also the least human. They clearly have a well thought out corporate structure, and you can tell that many of them feel part of the Starbucks family. But they also seem rather dead-eyed and soulless. Maybe that’s just the one in Crouch End.

Costa Coffee

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Unfortunately, to my mind, Costa have the best coffee but the worst everything else. The food is barely edible (except the caramel square of which I am especially fond and of which I have to restrict my intake to avoid what would be dramatic reductions in the gains made from running thirty miles a week; one day though, I’m going to eat six at once), the interiors design in dingy and depressing, and the staff are rude and incompetent.

It’s not like I expect anything special from the staff; they’re doing what is basically a menial job for low pay. Why would you be happy with that? But there’s no need to be a miserable shitbite either.

I used to work in a cafe (back in the days before Starbucks and the other chains hit these shores), and although I was never a particularly good waiter, I tried to smile and pass on a little joy and I took  pride in turning out a good foam. Kids today, well, sheesh! They’ll ask if you want a muffin, or want chocolate on top of your cap; beyond that you’re just blocking the view.

They also have some rather unsettling photos on the walls. These are mostly scenes of  generic Mediterranean streets, squares, cafes etc. designed obviously to make grumpy Londoners struggling through the rain and misery of a British winter ( or summer for that matter), feel a little more cosmopolitan and sophisticated. But there’s a sinister undertone, which may or may not be intentional. Take this one as an example:

a young couple taking a pleasant stroll though a Tuscan market? Look again: firstly, he is clearly way older than her. Nothing wrong with that per se, but add to that the manner in which he is leading her, virtually shoving her along in a choke hold; the tension you can see in her shoulders, recoiling at his touch, and note also his concealed right hand? What’s he holding? A knife? A gun? His penis? The whole things looks a little rapey.

Cafe Nero

The coffee is on a par with Starbucks, i.e. OK but nothing more. The cups:

give the more European feel that ties in with the stained wood and moody decor; I guess they’re going for a Left Bank, Sartre, polo necks and berets kind of thing. Which I think they pull off ok.

I love that they leave jugs of water out for you to help yourself, they also have a very fine caramel shortbread ( although recently changed the base from biscuit to pastry!! Why?), but mostly I like the staff. Whatever they tell them at Nero training camp, the have created an ethos amongst the staff  which makes them appear genuinely cheerful and genuinely happy to serve.

There’s just one thing though. And its only in one branch, but it’s enough to creep me out more than a little.

At my local branch I have noticed that the name signed against the sheet for cleaning the toilets, to show they’re maintaining good hygiene standards (or at least that someone’s coming in and signing the sheet every couple of hours) is always the same name. This means one of two things: there is some pretty intense corporate bullying going on, and behind the smiles, the staff are forcing one of their co-workers to clean the toilets every two hours day in day out. Or, one member of staff (who is otherwise making your coffee and fixing your panini), is volunteering to clean the toilets, about which the less speculation the better as far as I’m concerned!

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So, the internet and a well known answers forum has spoken. To recap, here were my questions:

1.‘Is it okay to eat worms?’

2. Is it worth chopping off my finger for the insurance money?

3. Can I save on air fares by packing myself in a box and sending myself through the mail?

The answers were certainly interesting, if not entirely useful.

1.‘Is it okay to eat worms?’

‘I’d advise against it.’

‘Yuk.’

‘My cousin did it and he’s still alive.’

‘Sure, although not sure of protein value or cholesterol levels.’*

‘Worms are a good source of protein. I am sure they do not taste good.’

After posting the question on worms I found another very similar one that had previously been asked:

Would you eat worms for a million dollars?’

Which on the face of it would seem like a no-brainer, but actually received some surprising responses:

‘How many worms are we talking about?’

‘I’d pay to eat good worms!’

One poster didn’t exactly answer the question, but instead volunteered a list of the things they would do for a million dollars, the most notable of which was:

‘I would wear Sarah Jessica Parker’s vagina as a hat.’

Is it worth chopping off my finger for the insurance money?

‘Yes, if you’re going to invest the money wisely.’

Can I save on air fares by packing myself in a box and sending myself through the mail?

‘You can but will probably die, or suffer severe bruising.’

‘Nope, it is illegal to mail body parts whether attached or not.’

a piece of legislation I was hitherto unaware of – still, it was posted by someone calling themselves Bubba Goose, so who knows?

The Internet has spoken.

*I think this poster must have assumed I was planning to make worms my primary food source.

† Not sure which way this guy wanted me to go.

Today I have bought KnackerBrod, Kanel Snacka and Choklad Kex.

Can you guess where I’ve been in order to buy such rare delicacies?

Here’s a clue: check out this picture of the coffee I had whilst I was there:

That’s right, Gothenburg!

Only kidding, Ikea. Don’t ask.

Am now having much better coffee in Crouch End central’s lovely Riley’s:

Still formatting House of Dreams for Smashwords. Publication could be as early as next week. You’re all going to buy it, right?

Following yesterday’s post on Internet-as-wild-animal-for-pet facilitator, I have decided to ask the Internet some other stupid questions. I have posted the following  questions on a well know Answers forum:

1. ‘Is it okay to eat worms?’

2.Is it worth chopping off my finger for the insurance money?

3. Can I save on air fares by packing myself in a box and sending myself through the mail?

I’ll let you know what deep wisdom I uncover.

Today’s haiku:

Sweden- land of snow.

I guess; I’ve never been there.

Maybe it’s quite warm?

I have spent the last 4 hours formatting my novel House of Dreams, so I can put it out  as an E-book. Plus another 3 hours late last night.

Man, what a royal pain in the hoop!

And all the time I’m deleting tabs, adding bookmarks and similar shit, I can’t help thinking it’s like when you put up a shelf , or build a wall (both of which I have done in the past, badly), and that you know that if you only did it a couple more times you’d nail it. But how often do you build walls? Once. Or if you do ever do it again you’ve forgotten all the stuff you learnt last time, because  it’s three years since you did it.

Well, anyway, it’s like that.

And I still have to design a front cover. Although I’m hoping the very talented Ziiplight might help me out there with some cool photos.

So when it’s finished and up on a bunch of sites, please buy it.

Today I have bought coffee:

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(Starbucks have changed their coffee cups! Considering the amount of time I spend in the place, this is a significant event. I am going to have to reflect on this for a little while before I will be able to understand it’s impact. Initial and ill-formed thoughts – a bit unsettling. No-one likes change, right?)

Today I didn’t buy a baby lion. Obviously. Why would I? Which is precisely what occurred to me when I heard a news item on the radio the other day suggesting that the Internet was being implicated in increasing the trade in endangered species, through websites and chatrooms that facilitated the purchase of exotic pets. This sounded suspect to me, but I was intrigued. It didn’t take me long to find some advice as to how to go forward with my purchase.

On the website E-How, a site dedicated to ‘providing visitors the ability to help complete day-to day tasks[1], ‘owning a pet lion’ was given the rating moderately easy! The basics are as follows: a lion cub retails for around $2500, for which you need a license at $250. A cage seems pretty much essential and costs up to $2000, and I’m guessing that’s an area where you probably want to spend as much as you can afford. Food and vitamins come in at around $2000 per annum with vet’s bills at $250, which just covers basic check-ups, shots and so on, more if the lion gets ill, thorn in paw etc. Insurance is a big cost at $14,000 a year and baring in mind the wide variety of potential lion-related mishaps that could occur, none of which can be imagined as anything other than disastrous, again, probably another area where you don’t want to skimp. Lastly and most intriguingly an ‘indestructible ball’ costs $250[2].

So that’s start-up costs of around $21,000. This would deter most people I would think. I figured there might be some less formal (and less expensive) ways of going about the whole thing, which might have been more what  the news article had been talking about, so I tried to get a question out into the internet community and see if I might uncover a network of black market, unregulated, big cat traders. I posted the following request on Yahoo Answers: ‘Where can I get a baby lion?

I received a number of answers in pretty short order, which either makes me think that this really is a serious issue, or that there are a lot of people who just like to give advice. The answers were a mixture of serious and amusing, ranging from the incredulous:

A bad idea all round’

‘You’ll get mangled to shreds’

‘No offence but that is a gay question”

‘What is wrong with you?’

To the practical:

‘You can buy one from Africa. It will cost a lot and you will have to kill it when it gets over one year old or it will eat you.’

‘Go to Mexico Bro, everything is legal there.’

And one poster who took the trouble to reply with a long and very detailed exposition on why this might not be a viable idea which actually ran to six pages and covered, under various subheadings, topics such as ‘licensing’, ‘enclosures’, ‘diet’, ‘training and safety’ and ‘exotic vet’.[3]

All in all it sounded like owning a lion would be a major hassle, and I didn’t feel that the Internet was going to make it that much easier.


[1] (day-to-day? Surely a touch of mission-creep here re the lion advice.)

[2] (quite keen to get one of these regardless of actual lion purchase.)

[3] As much as I am both intrigued and delighted by the image conjured up by the alternative interpretation, I have to assume that the author of this post was actually referring to a vet who specialised in exotic animals.

 

 

So today I made a big decision… I am going to self-publish.

I know what you’re thinking – vanity publishing. Yuech! Well, there was a time where I would never have even considered this route. Ever since I wanted to be a writer I wanted to do it a certain way, i.e. have a big publishing house call me a goddamn literary genius and throw a shit-ton of cash at me for my work. I haven’t exactly given up on this, but it looks like there may be other ways to go about it.

E-books, so I’m led to believe, are the future. And setting up your own E-book seems to be pretty simple and has none (okay , not so much) of the stigma of vanity press.

Well, you know simple is as simple does. I have spent the last 4 hours reading the instructions on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, and the Smashwords website, and it honestly looks like a massive fucking hassle. There’s all this shit about formatting, file types, blah blah blah, not to mention creating some kind of cover image.

This is not stuff I do well.

I can bake bread, I’m nice to my kids,I like to think I can write a little, but tech stuff? That’s a big no. The only reason I’m able to write this blog at all is with a good deal of help from my Canadian buddy, Andrew.

Anyway, I’m going to do it. My first novel House of Dreams is going to be available to download, er, well pretty soon.

I’d very much appreciate you checking it out and like, you know, buying it.

It’s not all been wasted time today though; I  spent the first hour of the day composing the following letter to Barnet Parking Services in regard to a totally unjust parking fine. See what you think:

Dear Shit-balls,

Are you fucking retarded? Did you even bother to read my explanation? I did buy a ticket from your fucking pay-by-phone service, even though I now have to pay a minimum charge of £1 (twice the previous amount) AND a charge for using the frigging service I never wanted to use in the first place. It took me 2o minutes to register on your crappy website and give you all my details and then buy the ticket, by which time you’d issued the fine.

You massive fuckwads.

Kind Regards

C Jacobs.

Okay, I didn’t actually send that; I sent a nice polite letter outlining their errors. I didn’t use the word fuckwad once. I did however use my standard ploy when dealing with bureaucratic cornholes of copying their superiors in to the e-mail, in this case the chief exec. of Barnet Council. That usually gets them to pull their fingers out.

And in regards to my buy-nothing project, just 1 coffee to day. Here it is:

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Not bad, huh? ( I mean me not buying much; the coffee looks pretty ordinary).

And today’s haiku:

Mild again today.

It’s hardly felt like winter.

I’m glad; cold sucks balls.

 

The other day I mentioned that, partly in response to the general economic shit-storm we’re in the midst of, and partly as a psychological challenge, I’m trying to spend no money. Okay, obviously not no money, that’s too hard. But I’m consciously cutting down on buying shit I probably don’t need. Just, you know, stuff, like magazines, sandwiches, that kind of thing.

In Tesco’s today, I didn’t buy capers (no one actually needs capers, ever, right?) but I did buy yoghurt. Okay, no-one needs yoghurt either, but it’s one of the few good things my five year old son eats, and whose diet otherwise is made up primarily of crackers, black pudding and sweets, so it’s a justified purchase.

Whilst in the yoghurt aisle I was struck by the choice I faced, re the yoghurts. I counted in excess of 100 different types of yoghurt for sale, including: Greek, organic, soya, high fibre, low fat, fat free, pouring, bio-live, fruity, incredibly fruity (who is ever going to buy ‘fruity’ once they see this one?), probiotic, intensely creamy, and naturally good†. This is not counting a further 25 plus varieties of yoghurt drinks and around the same number of ‘kids’ yoghurts. To anyone who considers this for even a moment, it is a situation that cannot be judged as anything other than absolutely fucking insane.

As I recall, when I was a kid, there was only Ski yoghurt, and you could choose natural or hazelnut. Maybe strawberry.

Were we better off then?

Here is today’s coffee,

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taken at The Whittington hospital where I went to have the stitches removed following my major knee surgery.

And today’s haiku:

Intensely creamy,

Probiotic or low cal.

Whatevs; it’s sour milk!

†This is possibly an example of the sort of thing Ludwig Wittgenstein‡ was referring to when he discussed the way in which we are bewitched by language –‘naturally good’ seems to convey all the promise of being beneficial to your health, the environment, perhaps even your soul, without actually meaning anything at all.

‡From what I have read about Wittgenstein I find it hard to picture him eating yoghurt, so maybe not this specific example.

I don’t read the Sun newspaper often, but I’m usually glad when I do. Not because there’s ever anything informative or insightful or useful, but because there’s usually something to make you laugh. Today it was former Blur bassist and career tit Alex James, promoting Mickey D’s and KFC.

You can see the full article here.

But really, don’t bother. I’m giving you the highlights (although then you’ll pretty much have to check the original article to see that I’m not making it up).

James (a man who has frequently boasted of dropping over £1million on champagne and cocaine like some grinning, lottery-winning Chav, and is currently in litigation with a bunch of locals after the festival he organised on his farm (dubbed Worstival by The Guardian newspaper) lost a shit ton of cash and he decided not to pay anyone who’d worked for him, including a local primary school), was invited on a tour of the processing centres of McDonalds, Greggs and KFC.

He likens McDonalds to a ‘Michelin starred restaurant’, describes their buns as ‘crunchy but fluffy‘, claims they make ‘the perfect quarter pounder’ and is repeatedly ‘dazzled‘ by the whole cow-shredding operation. See, now you’re going to have to check that he really said all that shit.

The best part though is when he virtually spooges himself talking about the ‘awesome seasoning’ they put on their burgers, which he was lucky enough to be allowed to take home and has started using in his home-baked bread. Then reveals that according to McD’s, the ‘awesome seasoning is  nothing more than salt and pepper – awesome indeed.

James sells food for a living. Not to me, obv. ( I tried some of his cheese once – Little Wallop, £7 for 250g and it tasted like sour margarine spread on  wet leaves – and not even good margarine), but that’s what he does. Not sure he’s going to be selling much any more.

This piece give a nice little view of his recent behaviour, and describes him beautifully both as’ David Cameron’s fluffer’ and as a ‘cheesing bellend’.

On another matter entirely, here is pic of today’s coffee:

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which I am drinking in lovely Crouch End cafe, Riley’s. The coffee is very good, a little biscuity. You can see I have gone for a latte today; taking it easy after yesterday’s debacle.

Today’s haiku:

Eight shots of coffee.

I felt a little jumpy.

And peed like a horse.